Tuesday, April 20, 2010
What we can learn about living longer from the ones that have and have not.
Yesterday, my 96 year old patient died. I felt really sad. She was sweet and I enjoyed visiting her and her 99 year old sister.
Many of my patients are elderly. Some are seriously ill and others are just older and failing. And all of them have so much to share about life. I find them fascinating.
I lost my 96 year old grandmother, Cora, when I was 18. She was an interesting person as well, but as any parent of an 18 year old knows, we don't realize it then. My other grandmother, Helen, died when I was 6, so perhaps I am making up for lost time by embracing my senior patients. Who knows. But I do know that I am not the only one. Other nurses tell me the same thing.
I recently finished reading a a book called The Blue Zones by Dan Buettner. In this book, he traveled the globe to the areas where people live the longest to find out their secrets of longevity.
It is an interesting read, but is sort of the same advice we read about in most books about health. Eat right, exercise, drink water, eat fish. You know the drill.
I would find it much more interesting to read about what the ones that died young did wrong. I am sure that many of them also ate well, exercised and drank water, too.
I see many patients who die young, but they did not do anything particularly wrong. They may have simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time, had their symptoms dismissed because they were too young, or did a lot of stupid things that finally caught up with them. Or maybe they just had bad luck. Or bad genes.
And the patients that I see who are very old. What did they do to make it through this life so long? Besides good luck and great genes, of course.
Here is a sampling of some the things that I have seen over and over again in the course of my nursing career:
They drink tea.
They use sugar or honey and have never had a 'diet' anything.
They have a hobby that they are passionate about.
They worry less about nonsense.
They are not obese, but also not skinny. Kind of just right. Our bodies want to add fat as we age. Some of it may be protective. Too bad we are a culture obsessed with thinness. It probably is not healthy at all.
They walk places.
They have a support system of friends and family.
They drink tap water.
They take naps. Many report they have always taken naps, even when younger.
They take a vitamin pill daily. Some take several supplements. One man I met in his late 90's had about 30 supplements on his shelf. He took many and he really looked great. The hospital that discharged him after a brief illness thought he needed hospice, but we could not sign him on because he simply did not qualify. I looked at all of his supplements. You can bet I wrote them down. He is doing well.
They lift small weights daily.
They eat less.
They have a optimistic attitude.
They go outside and are not afraid of the sun. Many think the sun has healing abilities. Scientists agree and are now saying that Vitamin D3 is very important. These smart elders never needed a scientist to tell them that. D3 is what we get from the sun.
They wear a hat when out in the sun to protect their skin.
They use basic soap and water to cleanse with. They do not douse themselves in chemicals. They do not use antibacterial soaps.
They enjoy the small things in life.
If they don't like someone, they don't play nice. They are true to themselves.
I am sure that you can add to this list. We don't need a book or a scientist to tell us what we need to know about living longer.
We can simply look around us.